News Release

Public misperception about scientific agreement on global warming undermines climate policy support

Peer-Reviewed Publication

George Mason University

FAIRFAX, Va., November 21, 2011—People who believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about global warming tend to be less certain that global warming is happening and less supportive of climate policy, researchers at George Mason, San Diego State, and Yale Universities report in a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

A recent survey of climate scientists conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois found near unanimous agreement among climate scientists that human-caused global warming is happening.

This new George Mason University study, however, using results from a national survey of the American public, finds that many Americans believe that most climate scientists actually disagree about the subject.

In the national survey conducted in June 2010, two-thirds of respondents said they either believed there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening (45 percent), that most scientists think it is not happening (5 percent), or that they did not know enough to say (16 percent.) These respondents were less likely to support climate change policies and to view climate change as a lower priority.

By contrast, survey respondents who correctly understood that there is widespread agreement about global warming among scientists were themselves more certain that it is happening, and were more supportive of climate policies.

"Misunderstanding the extent of scientific agreement about climate change is important because it undermines people's certainty that climate change is happening, which in turn reduces their conviction that America should find ways to deal with the problem," says Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

Maibach argues that a campaign should be mounted to correct this misperception. "It is no accident that so many Americans misunderstand the widespread scientific agreement about human-caused climate change. A well-financed disinformation campaign deliberately created a myth about there being lack of agreement. The climate science community should take all reasonable measures to put this myth to rest."


About George Mason University

George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country. Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University—Where Innovation Is Tradition.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.